Searching the Obituary Database

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What exactly is a necrology?

It's like an obituary, but we use this term to indicate that the information is specifically about a person's religious service. The most basic necrologies include dates and places of birth, ordination, and death, as well as a list of places where the deceased served (i.e. churches, missions, organizational boards, etc.). Depending upon the publication and the prominence of the person in question, there may be a fuller obituary article that includes more biographical information.

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Why aren't I getting any search results?

Either the person you're looking for isn't in the database, or they aren't listed in the format you're using to look for them.

By first name:

  • Sometimes people were only listed by their initials. Try searching by just their last name, or select "Starts with" in the menu above the text field and enter just their first initial — e.g. "G" rather than "George".

By last name:

  • Spellings of last names sometimes changed from generation to generation, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries. Try using other common variations such as Cook/Cooke, Whitaker/Whittaker, Bailey/Bayley, etc., or select "Starts with" in the menu above the text field and enter only as much as you are certain of.

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What do the Publication abbreviations mean?

Abbreviation Publication
ACU YB Yearbook of the American Congregational Union /
American Congregational Year-Book
Builders Builders of a Commonwealth by Truman O. Douglass
CC YB Yearbook of the Congregational and Christian Churches /
Yearbook of the Congregational Christian Churches
Cong'l Q Congregational Quarterly
Cong'l YB Congregational Year-Book
CPNE Biographical sketches of the Congregational pastors of New England by Emerson Davis
Life & Light Life and Light for Woman /
Life and Light for Heathen Women
Missionary Herald Missionary Herald at Home and Abroad
MH Newsletter Missionary Herald Newsletter
NACCC YB National Association of Congregational Christian Churches Handbook /
National Association of Congregational Christian Churches Yearbook
 UCC YB United Church of Christ Yearbook
(not available digitally)
Vinton John Vinton's biographies of ABCFM missionaries
(often referred to as "The Vinton books")
Welsh Memorial volume of Welsh Congregationalists in Pennsylvania, 1797-1931
by David Jones
Whole Earth Whole Earth Newsletter

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What does a question mark in a name field mean?

If there is a question mark (?) in a name field, it means that the person in question is referenced or implied to have existed, but their first name is not given. This occurs most commonly with women.

  • Clergymen's necrologies often refer to wives only by title, or imply their existence through the mention of children.
  • Wives of clergy or missionaries who were also daughters of clergy or missionaries are sometimes named only in reference to their fathers, e.g. "…married a daughter of Rev. Shepard".
  • Biographies for children of ministers and missionaries often refer to the subjects' fathers but neglect to name their mothers explicitly. In these cases, we have gathered the mothers' names from the fathers' necrologies whenever possible.
  • In rare cases, the subjects of the necrologies themselves are listed only by last name. In such instances, we have attempted to gather their first names from other sources.

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Why don't some listings have a year?

Some of our sources — the Vinton books, Emerson Davis's biographical sketches of early New England clergy, and Truman Douglass's Builders of a Commonwealth — were never published.

The years listed in the index entries are the years in which the sources were published, not individual dates of death. Since they were never formally published and cover such wide date ranges, these unpublished collections do not have years listed.

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Why do two listings for the same person have different information?

There are two main reasons:

  • Time — While we try to cross-reference as much as possible within each source as we add new records, this database has been growing on-and-off since 2005 and now contains more than 30,000 entries. Checking and updating older entries just isn't at the top of our to-do list.
  • Reflecting the source — We don't want to give the impression that a given source has more information than it does.

Because each publication contains slightly different information, you should look at all available necrologies for a given person to get the fullest picture of their life.

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I know the person I'm looking for was a Congregationalist. Why aren't they listed?

There are several possible reasons:

  • It was fairly common, particularly during the 19th century, for ministers to change denominations over the course of their careers. Even if they were ordained as a Congregationalist, a minister who was not a Congregationalist when they died would probably not have a necrology submitted to these yearbooks. Clergy leaving the denomination often became Presbyterian, Unitarian, Evangelical, Methodist, or Baptist. Contact the archives and/or historical societies of these other denominations for further assistance.
  • The Conservative Congregational Christian Conference does not include necrologies in its yearbook. If the minister in question was not associated with any other group, they will not have a necrology to be listed here.
  • The person in question may fall outside the current scope of our database. It includes obituaries for missionaries from 1810 to 2011, and clergy from the early 1600s to the present. If you are looking for someone who is not be included in our indexed sources, please contact us. We may be able to find the information in another part of our collection.
  • The National Association of Congregational Christian Churches includes laypeople who are not clergy or missionaries in its necrology lists. Because they are do not fall into either category, they are not currently included in our index.

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Now that I have a citation, how can I see the actual necrology?

You have several options:

  • Many of the publications listed can be viewed online.
  • We can usually provide copies (photocopy by mail or scan by e-mail) of these materials upon request.
  • Due to copyright restrictions, we can only provide excerpts from certain periodicals and more recent yearbooks on an individual basis. Please contact us to request those materials, or for help finding copies of the publications in your area.
  • If you are in the Boston area, come by and take a look in person.
  • See if there is a copy of the publication in your area by searching WorldCat.

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How can I find more information about Congregational ministers?

There is a wealth of information in our collection, including memorials, ordination sermons, church histories and anniversary materials, and records of disbanded churches. Take a look at our online catalog. It is a work in progress containing more than 89,000 item records with more added regularly.

We have an archival collection for the Congregational Board of Pastoral Supply that contains files for many East Coast ministers from 1893 to 1975. Browse the finding guide for this collection, or simply type the name of the person you're looking for into the search box at the top of this page.

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